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Coronavirus: Dubai offers socially distanced safari experience as animal sanctuary reopens

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Fifteen-year-old western low land gorilla Digit folded his arms and pressed his face against the impact-resistant glass surrounding his enclosure at the Dubai Safari Park. Peering curiously at visitors, who were all wearing masks, it was evident from his expressions that Digit did not trust the newcomers in his enclave.

“He is still not used to (seeing) people wearing face masks. Sometimes, he paces up and down the enclave and bangs his arms against the glass if he is overly agitated,” said a tour guide at the park that reopened earlier this week.

Digit’s companion, 10-year-old Daisy, perched high on a tree, ignoring Digit’s antics. “She is not very fond of him … poor Digit,” said the tour guide.

After a refurbishment programme that lasted two years, the Dubai Safari Park reopened to visitors on October 5. The park is home to 3,000 animals, including 84 species of mammals. It has 15 carnivores, 18 primates, 60 types of reptiles and 115 kinds of birds living on 119 hectares of land.

Delighted kids and parents in small groups were seen on Wednesday when Khaleej Times visited the park.

The critically-endangered species of gorillas was the star attraction at the African Village. Other stars are new additions – African elephant cubs Madiba, Zulu, Tenbu, and Jajinga. Unperturbed by the scorching sun, Madiba, the male cub, splashed around in the mud, teasing the females in his enclave. Every move made by the gentle giants resulted in squeals of delight from the kids and adults at the park.

Covid-19 safety first

Dubai Safari Park reopened with stringent social distancing measures. Failure to wear masks is punishable with a Dh3,000 fine. Only children aged under three are allowed to remain mask-free.

Park security guards and tour guides were seen reminding guests without masks to put them on immediately. Sanitisation kit vending machines and hand sanitiser dispensers were placed all over the park. A simplified hop on-hop off bus service took visitors to each area of the park, including the Asian, African, and Arabian Villages, and along the banks of the Wadi river.

Every time a group exited a bus, park staff cleaned the surfaces before the next group boarded. Entry into enclaves is staggered; not more than two people are allowed to sit on benches; and patrons must maintain a 2-metre distance from one another.

Fun facts

> Dubai Safari Park is home to the UAE’s first African elephants, which are also the heaviest in the park, weighing up to 3,000kg

> The park’s three pride lions eat 120kg of meat each day

> Its tallest mammal is the giraffe, which grows to about 6 metres

> The smallest mammal is the common marmoset, which grows to approximately 19cm

> The park is home to the world’s first drive-through crocodile exhibit

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